I’m 13 and smart, but my family ignores me

24th July, 2010

Dear Economist,
You may be surprised to receive a question from a 13-year-old reader of the FT, but I always steal the weekend paper from my father, who is an economics professor.

Everyone in my family is well educated, which is why simple dinner chit-chat usually segues into an exuberant discussion chock full of sarcasm, wit and the occasional clash of opinions. Being the youngest gives me some leeway if I happen to be misinformed. But it also makes it hard to express my opinion on the topics being discussed.

Is there any way I could let myself be heard without having to throw a teenage tantrum?

Alison Downie

Dear Alison,

Dinner sounds wonderful: a privilege to witness, if not so easy to get a word in edgeways. It is much like my life at the FT where I share a corridor with Martin Wolf, Gideon Rachman and Philip Stephens. Perhaps you should simply accept the situation – which could be worse – and soak up the insight. This is what I try to do at the FT. (When I do open my mouth I usually regret it.)

Yet I understand your difficulty. I suspect that your father has been trying to figure out whether you’re worth listening to using an old approach that we economists call “adaptive expectations”. You are 13, but he cannot quite clear his mind of your 12-year-old and even four-year-old predecessors. Still, you might point out to him that he is using an obsolete modelling technique.

An alternative is to recall Charles Caleb Colton’s remark that “the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer” and phrase your interjections as questions. Begin by asking your father if we will have a double-dip recession, and make a show of taking note of his answer for future reference. He may insist that you do the talking in future.

Also published at ft.com.

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